Tonight on NBCSN: Doubleheader action featuring No. 1 Quinnipiac and No. 6 North Dakota

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Tonight’s doubleheader features a great, yet not well known, ECAC rivalry and thriller of a match-up in the WCHA.

No. 1 Quinnipiac Bobcats (22-4-4) vs. No. 13 Yale Bulldogs (13-9-3) – 7:30 p.m. ET

Quinnipiac may have taken the college hockey world by storm this season but they head into tonight’s game looking to keep their steamship of a season rolling right along. They’re the top team in the country and they’ve already locked up the ECAC’s regular season title. Coach Rand Pecknold’s team is a beast that can score plenty and stymie you defensively. To add to their Connecticut rivalry, they’ve already whooped on Yale in their barn this season.

Yale, meanwhile, wants to make sure they don’t drift too far out of second place. After getting swept by Union and suddenly scorching hot Rensselaer last weekend, the Bulldogs are tied for fifth with Dartmouth in the league. Paying back the Bobcats for their defeat earlier this season would help get them back on track.

NHL prospects to watch

Quinnipiac: Matthew Peca (SO – F- Tampa Bay – pictured), Jordan Samuels-Thomas (SR – F – Winnipeg), Kellen Jones (JR – F – EDM). Undrafted stars: Jeremy Langlois (SR – F; team points leader with 26), Eric Hartzell (SR – G; 1.46 GAA .935 SV%)

Yale:  Kenny Agostino (F – JR – Pittsburgh), Gus Young (D – JR – Colorado), Rob O’Gara (D – FR – Boston), Matthew Beattie (F – FR – Vancouver). Undrafted stars: Andrew Miller (SR – F; tied for team lead in goals with 12, 2nd in points), Antoine Laganiere (SR – F; also tied with Miller and Agostino in goals, third on team in points), Jeff Malcolm (SR – G; 2.48 GAA .918 SV%)

No. 10 Denver Pioneers (15-9-5) vs. No. 6 University of North Dakota (16-8-6) – 10:05 p.m. ET

source:  The race in the WCHA for the top spot is a tight one and both North Dakota and Denver are in striking distance. UND sits just three points back of St. Cloud State but they’re in fifth place. Meanwhile, DU is six points back in seventh place. It’s fitting that the final season of this iteration of the WCHA has turned into a wild one.

North Dakota heads into this game unbeaten in their last five games (3-0-2) and winners of three in a row. Denver, on the other hand, comes in grumpy after tying and losing to rival Colorado College last weekend and falling a bit further back in the conference race. With the season winding down and the boatload of talent on the ice between these teams, expect both to come out all guns blazing.

NHL prospects to watch

Denver: The Pioneers roll with seven NHL prospects highlighted by the team’s leading scorer, junior forward Nick Shore (Los Angeles). Sophomore defenseman Joey LaLeggia (Edmonton) is their top point-getter along the blue line. Others to watch: Zac Larraza (SO – F – Phoenix), Scott Mayfield (SO – D – NY Islanders), Paul Phillips (SR – D – Chicago), Josiah Didier (SO – D – Montreal), Sam Brittain (JR – G – Florida)

North Dakota:  They have 14 NHL-drafted players here. The best of the bunch are their top-four scorers in seniors Corban Knight (Florida) Danny Kristo (Montreal -pictured), freshman Rocco Grimaldi (Florida) and sophomore Mark MacMillan (Montreal). Freshman goalie Zane Gothberg (Boston) has impressed of late.

(Photos: ECAC Hockey, North Dakota sports)

Report: Coyotes to talk to Todd Nelson about coaching vacancy

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The Arizona Coyotes had a somewhat unexpected shakeup this past week when the team and long-time head coach Dave Tippett mutually agreed to part ways after nine seasons together.

The search for a replacement began immediately and according to Jim Matheson of the Edmonton Journal the Coyotes will be speaking to former Oilers coach Todd Nelson about the vacancy.

Nelson spent 51 games behind the Oilers bench during the 2014-15 season replacing Dallas Eakins. Nelson was replaced at the conclusion of that season by former San Jose Sharks coach Todd McLellan. While his NHL head coaching experience is limited to that brief time in Edmonton, he has an extensive track record in the American Hockey League with the Oklahoma City Barons (Edmonton’s top farm team) and currently the Grand Rapids Griffins (the Detroit Red Wings’ top farm team).

He has spent the past two seasons in Grand Rapids — replacing Jeff Blashill after he was promoted to the Detroit job — and has had a ton of success, leading the team to the Calder Cup this past season.

Predators won’t trade defense for forward help

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After losing James Neal to the Vegas Golden Knights in the expansion draft this past week the Nashville Predators have a pretty glaring hole in their top-six that is going to need to be addressed. Along with that, captain Mike Fisher is an unrestricted free agent on July 1 and is also considering retirement.

Because of those two developments general manager David Poile has made adding a top-six forward a priority for this summer, and he certainly has the salary cap space to get something done.

One thing he is not going to do, however, is trade one of his defensemen to find that help up front.

“We’ve traded enough defensemen in my recent history,” Poile said on Saturday, via the Tennessean. “I think everybody would be pretty much on the same page that our defense drives our team and our corps is as good as any in the league. We will not be touching our defense in the near future here.”

Over the past two years Poile has traded Shea Weber and Seth Jones off of his blue line but has still managed to assemble the NHL’s best defense. The quartet of P.K. Subban, Roman Josi, Ryan Ellis and Mattias Ekholm is so good that Poile made sure to protect all four of them in the expansion draft and leave Neal — a consistent 25-to 30-goal scorer signed for one more year on a pretty good contract — exposed for Vegas to take.

Without dealing one of their top-four defensemen it might be difficult to find an impact winger via the trade route, which might force them to turn to the free agent market.

But even that is going to be difficult because it is such a limited market. Now that T.J. Oshie has re-signed with the Washington Capitals Alexander Radulov would probably be the top winger available, but given his history with Nashville there is virtually no chance of that reunion happening. Justin Williams would be an intriguing veteran option, while Joe Thornton could help fill the void at center if Fisher does not return.

Still, not trading from the defense is the absolute right path for Poile and the Predators to take. Not only is that group the backbone of the Predators’ organization and one of the driving forces behind its success, it is also an extremely young group that is all signed long-term on cap friendly deals.

Even with the loss of Neal Nashville still has a deep group of forwards, while youngsters Pontus Aberg and Kevin Fiala could get an increased role and an opportunity to shine.

 

Rangers GM ‘open to anything’ on new Zibanejad contract

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Along with working to fix his team’s defense, the big issue at hand for New York Rangers general manager Jeff Gorton this offseason is coming to terms with restricted free agents Jesper Fast and Mika Zibanejad.

Following the NHL draft on Saturday, Gorton was asked where things stand in those talks and he said he was hoping to get something done “rather soon.”

What those contracts will look like, however, seems to be a bit of a mystery and Gorton doesn’t seem to have his mind set on any particular structure as far as it being long-term or a bridge deal.

“We’re open to anything as far as Mika. We want to make a good deal.” Gorton said (via the Daily News).

“It could be short-term, it could be long-term. We’re wide open.”

The Rangers acquired the 24-year-old Zibanejad before the 2016-17 season in the trade that sent Derick Brassard to the Ottawa Senators.

His first year on Broadway was mostly a success when he was healthy, scoring 14 goals and adding 23 assists in 56 games. That point per game average would have put him on a 54-point pace over 82 games which would have been a new career high. Zibanejad is just now entering what should be his peak years in the NHL and he’s already proven that he can be penciled in for 20 goals and 50 points every year (he’s been close to the pace for three straight years now). Given that there were only 69 forwards in the NHL that topped both 20 goals and 50 points this past season, that is easily first-or second-line production and a valuable asset.

Following the buyout of defenseman Dan Girardi and the trade of forward Derek Stepan to the Arizona Coyotes the Rangers were able to clear out a significant amount of cap space over the past couple of weeks and currently have more than $20 million in cap space with 17 players under contract for this season. That should not only give them more than enough space to re-sign Zibanejad and Fast, but also perhaps take a run at a free agent like defenseman like Kevin Shattenkirk. They only have eight players under contract for next season.

NHL teams can begin talking to pending free agents today

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After completing the NHL draft on Saturday the offseason rolls on for the league’s 31 teams on Sunday.

That is the day pending free agents can begin talking to teams around the league to gauge their potential interest in one another. Obviously no contracts can be signed until July 1, and technically there is to be no discussion of contract terms, but the window is open for discussions to begin.

T.J. Oshie re-signing with the Washington Capitals on Friday already removed one of the big-ticket players from the market. But several of his teammates will be available, including forwards Justin Williams and Daniel Winnik and defensemen Kevin Shattenkirk and Karl Alzner.

Shattenkirk is probably the top free agent available on the market and headlines a weak group of defensemen. He is expected to draw heavy interest from the New York Rangers as they look to reshape their defense.

Up front there is Alexander Radulov if the Montreal Canadiens are unable to come to terms on a new contract with him, while it could be the end of an era in San Jose as Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau are eligible for UFA status on July 1.